I finally succumbed. Friends and family know that there are a few things in life that leave me helplessly weak-kneed. There are some temptations in life I can’t resist for too long. Buying books is just one of them. So ignoring the hype generated by the ‘inspired’ reviews in every magazine and newspaper (including – surprisingly – a high-brow business newspaper, which even carried an excerpt click here to read), I picked up from the new Delhi Airport Bookshop what’s been touted as the first ever anthology of Indian Erotic Writing - Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book Of Erotic Stories by Ruchir Joshi, Tranquebar Books. In the foreword ‘Indian’ has been qualified as “Indian (South Asian) authors writing in English”.
On the flight, a colleague traveling with me quickly flicked the copy but was equally prompt in returning it when we got off the plane – saying, he didn’t wish to take it home and get the wife all worked up (no pun intended). My lady at home was characteristically nonchalant. "Don't take it along on the long trip ahead", she counselled explaining that she thought it may not be very conducive to my current physical condition, following the minor surgical procedure I had undergone a few months ago.
So, I had to wait till my return last week before taking up the book. I liked Ruchir Joshi’s introduction. Though his justification for doing such an anthology was a trifle convoluted (and, unnecessary I thought), what I found interesting was his account of the reactions he evinced from different established authors whom he had approached for contributing to the collection. But, honestly I couldn’t proceed beyond the first 2 pages of any story that I tried. Each one was more juvenile and puerile than the other. To me they were the print equivalent of the crude desi-porn movies shot with hand held movie cameras that we saw in our college days – courtesy some adventurous classmates who dared to raid their parents’ closets (those were before the days of camcorders and video parlours).
In contrast, I remembered some of the lovely erotic passages one has read in modern Bengali literature – the writings of Samaresh Basu, Buddhadev Bose, Buddhadev Guha, Sunil Gangopadhyay and so many others. I am quite sure there are similar works in other Indian languages with strong literary traditions – Tamil, Kannada, Oriya, Assamese and, 'oh-how-can-I-forget' – Marathi, living in Mumbai, or even in Hindi, rising above the stereo type of the sleazy paperbacks one sees lined on pavement book shops.
Recently, I remember watching a TV documentary on a developing cult in Tamil literature of erotic poetry being written by a band of young women poets (SheWrite, A film by Anjali Monteiro & K P Jayasankar click here). I wonder, how much richer the collection could have been – if it included translations of real authors writing in real Indian languages. Perhaps, Mr Joshi – educated in one of Calcutta's so called "English Medium" Schools, may not have been exposed to these facets of modern Indian literature (Or else, he may have mildly moderated his assertions such as "we in the subcontinent still live trapped in a cat’s cradle of taboos and repressions").
More interesting than the book, I believe, was the launch event. Read about it here. But, for me the only silver lining is that, there could be life beyond blogging. One can always turn to writing facile erotica.